Tuesday, September 26, 2023

SPGB Meetings (1983)

Party News from the September 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
There is an audio recording available of the debate between E Hardy (Edgar Hardcastle) and Arthur Johnston of the Conservative Party. The debate was hosted by the Islington branch of the SPGB. I haven't listened to it (yet), so I cannot vouch for the audio quality:
Friday 7 October, 8.00 
Prince Albert pub
Wharfdale Road, King's Cross, N1

Letters: Civil servants (1983)

Letters to the Editors from the September 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Civil servants

Dear Editors

Now a regular reader, I find myself in broad agreement with your views. Particularly. I see people’s faith in the money system as being capitalism’s jugular vein. Your position on Right to Work campaigns is also sound. If this were not so, armaments production could be justified as it provides jobs.

However. I found your April article on the power of the Civil Service's permanent officials to be unconvincing. You say that "the ease with which different governments adopt different policies, and the same government goes in for U-turns, shows that government policies are not determined by the permanent officials." Well, as you have pointed out, how “different” are the policies of Labour and Conservative governments? Secondly: surely, U-turns are more likely to be precipitated by the permanent officials, who remain anonymous while government officials face the music.
A. Beckett 
Great Boughton, Chester

Mr. Beckett holds that it is the Permanent Officials who determine government policies and reversals of policies; which, he thinks, explains why there is no real difference between the policies of Tory and Labour governments.

However it is a basic error to suppose that the capitalist class is a monolithic body having only one interest, that of defending capitalism and opposing socialism, for within that general framework different groups have sectional interests, absolutely vital to themselves. These lead to conflicts fought out with all the resources at their disposal, including stirring up the workers to support one side or the other.

This aspect of capitalism was already noted by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, 1848:
The bourgeoisie finds itself in a constant battle. At first against the aristocracy; later on with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry; at all times with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries.
The struggle for the abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846 was not a sham fight. The factory owners wanted cheap food imports as the way to reduce wages, but the agricultural interests saw in it their own near-ruin.

Other struggles between sections with conflicting interests have been between those favouring the gold standard and those opposing it; (in America the anti-gold campaign by Eugene Debs, with his slogan “Shall mankind be crucified upon a cross of gold?” was backed by the silver mining companies); over a low pound exchange rate good for exporters and a high rate good for importers; over entry to the EEC; over Keynesian doctrines and “monetarism”; and between capitalists supporting the nationalisation of particular industries and those opposing it.

According to Mr. Beckett’s theory it was the permanent officials who made the 1945 Labour government nationalise steel; then made the Tories denationalise it; renationalised it under the 1964 Labour Government and made the Thatcher government get a mandate to denationalise all or part of it. (The Labour Party pledged itself to maintain nationalisation in its 1983 programme.)

But this is quite wrong. Labour Party demands for nationalisation all originated in resolutions passed by their conferences and embodied in election programmes. Likewise, all the Tory demands for denationalisation were, first, items in their election programmes. There can be no explanation why permanent officials should behave in this very peculiar way, giving contradictory advice to successive governments.

Of course the permanent officials have not advised governments to introduce socialism but no government has ever wanted, or would have accepted, such advice. If by chance one of them gave that advice a Tory government or a Labour government, both being firmly committed to capitalism, would get rid of that official or, as has happened in some instances when the advice ran completely counter to government policy, transfer the person concerned to a department in which they would no longer be involved in such policy questions.

Crackpot Colonels

Dear Editors,

How is the neutralisation of state power to be made effective? In your publications, you say that with the advent of socialism, socialists will predominate throughout society, including the armed forces, which is fair enough as far as it goes. If the armed forces are for the most part socialists, then they will hardly oppose the new order.

But how will the armed forces first become socialists, in the main? Often the workers mistakenly joining the armed forces will be those who wish to preserve the existing social set up. But that’s not the point, after all, most workers, if not actually desiring the status quo. grudgingly accept it as a fact of nature, and I don’t consider that a barrier! The workers in the army etc. will be subject to more intensive indoctrination and greater isolation than the rest of us. This can only impede the spreading of socialist knowledge, so how do they become socialists? Through their families or acquaintances on the outside? Or perhaps socialists (when in sufficient numbers) will overcome their revulsion at being the boot-boys of capital, and enlist to propagate socialist ideas? Though as I understand it. being a member of the SPGB precludes membership of the armed forces (at least it will with a large socialist movement, hence aware capitalist politicians) and certainly vice versa.

Whatever the outcome, the non-socialists will be in a small minority. Fair enough, we will have abolished the state, and as military geezers are taught to obey orders, they should accept the change with no more trouble than a bit of flag-waving which most people wouldn’t particularly care for. But if there is a comparatively large anti-socialist faction remaining in the armed forces, mightn't some crackpot colonel take it into his head to attempt a disruption of the new society?
H T Muirhead
Dymock, Glos. 

(This letter has been slightly shortened — Editors.)

Let us be quite clear, that a socialist society will not submit to any efforts on the part of a minority to frustrate the will of the majority. Crackpot colonels will be suppressed with whatever persuasion, or force, is necessary.

But how will a minority be able to resist the revolutionary majority? How will they persuade people who have opted for socialism to turn back the clock to the society of war, famine, poverty, the Bomb? What point of social reference will they have, in a society without classes and class privilege? In whose interests will they advocate the abandonment of socialism?

The argument, of course, is that they will try to win their point not through persuasion but through violence. What instruments will be at hand for them to use in this? If violence is to have any hope against the wishes of the majority it must be a social effort, with popular support in its conception, organisation and carrying out. But the act of setting up socialism, by a conscious majority, will deprive it of these very essentials. The armed forces, for example, do not exist in isolation but rely in all senses on the sanction of the rest of society; deprived of that they cannot exist in any effective sense.

Workers join the armed forces for a variety of reasons; nowadays, probably because they are unable to find a job anywhere else. The armed and police forces are not peculiar in their requirement that their members act against working class interests; this happens in many other jobs as well. Although it is impossible to say why workers take up one job or another, we do know that the growth and the spread of socialist ideas affects them all; none of them are immune. The developing strength of the movement to socialism, then, will enfeeble the coercive state forces and finally the revolutionary act of establishing socialism will entail the working class taking over the state machine as the only public power of coercion. No minority will endure against that.

Who said . . . (1983)

From the September 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Here are some quotations. See how many you can correctly match up with their sources.

1. “I want to earn an honest living”

(a) Prince Charles
(b) Lord Wilson
(c) Ronald Biggs

2. “The Pope’s got great charisma. I’d like to sign him up”

(a) The Reverend Moon
(b) General Jaruzelski
(c) Lew Grade

3. “We must show that we have positive policies which are based upon the implacable requirement that the interests of the British people must predominate”

(a) Winston Churchill
(b) Neil Kinnock
(c) Martin Webster

4. “Whether you call it surplus or profit it is necessary, whether we live in a Socialist economy, a mixed economy or a capitalist economy”

(a) HRH The Duke of Edinburgh 
(b) Milton Freidman
(c) James Callaghan

5. “Is any sick among you? Let him call up for the elders of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall save the sick”

(a) Norman Fowler, Minister for Health
(b) The Chairman of Mazola
(c) The Bible (James v. 13)

6. “No sensible person suggests that students should not learn about Marxism any more than that a Medical course should omit venereal disease”

(a) Alastair Burnet
(b) Professor C K Grant
(c) Kenny Everett

7. “The belief in progress, the belief that Man can manage his own destiny is the most appalling death wish that ever afflicted humanity”

(a) A Neanderthal man
(b) General Haig
(c) Malcolm Muggeridge

8. “I cannot say in all truth that I do look on capitalism and business with the same joy as in 1960”

(a) Richard Nixon
(b) Jim Slater
(c) Roy Jenkins

9. “The efficiency of a business is much more important than the question of who owns the shares”

(a) Yuri Andropov
(b) Reg Prentice
(c) Denis Healey

10. “I went to the Lords because I had nowhere else to go”

(a) Lord Shinwell
(b) Ian Botham
(c) Lord Gormley

11. “I used to say that politics was the second oldest profession and now I have come to know that it bears a gross similarity to the first”

(a) John Profumo
(b) Shirley Williams
(c) Ronald Reagan

12. “Its (the workers’ state) officers are elected and subject to political control. All epaulettes and privileges of rank are abolished. . . All judges must be workers and subject to regular education”

(a) Monty Python record
(b) International Socialists Pamphlet
(c) A Bulgarian politburo brochure

13. “We demand therefore: abolition of incomes unearned by work. Abolition of the thraldom of interest. . . The ruthless confiscation of all war profits. We demand the nationalisation of all businesses which have been amalgamated. We demand that there should be profit-sharing in the great industries”

(a) A Militant editorial
(b) Manifesto of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
(c) Programme of the National Socialist German Workers Party (The Nazi Party)

1. (c). 2. (c). 3. (b). 4. (c). 5. (c), 6. (b). 7. (c), 8. (b), 9. (b), 10. (a), 11. (c), 12. (b). 13.(c).
Gary Jay

'Pack Up Your (Capitalist) Troubles' (1983)

Socialist Standard advert from the September 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is Behind the Fight for Suez (1956)

From the September 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Because they do not understand the workings of the social system that dominates the world we live in most people see the struggles between political parties and governments in terms of good and evil; good men and good doctrine against evil men and evil doctrine. They see their own "honest, self-sacrificing and reasonable leaders" being prevented from applying just and beneficial policies by the greedy and unprincipled leaders of the other party or nation, and in the atmosphere of fear and anger that conflict arouses they are only too anxious to believe that all the fine sounding principles of law, morality, religion and humanity are on their side; they feel no need to probe deeper for explanations.

The men at the top see more clearly the economic issues and interests involved but as they need to rouse the emotions and win the support of the mass of the people they dress up most of their declarations in the rabble-rousing language likely to move their listeners and readers. So over Suez we have had from the Western politicians a spate of talk about law and illegality, international rights, and wrongs. Fascist acts of plunder, etc., while from the Middle East Nasser and his defenders have worked up themselves and their audiences with passionate speeches about imperialism, oppression, insults to dignity, sovereignty and nationhood.

Not all the utterances are like these. From the “take a strong line" Sunday Express (12 August, 1956) came the following:—
“Forget all about the legalistic quibbles, about the rights and wrongs of the Suez dispute. Forget the mumblings of the self-styled moralists about the sort of example Britain should show the world. They do not matter. Only one thing counts. Say it again and again to yourself. If the Suez Canal falls into the control of Nasser, or any other enemy, then Britain is finished. And so are all our hopes for ourselves and our children."
and the like-minded Daily Mail (14 August), chiding the News Chronicle’s opposition to forcible methods and its appeal to “the moral conscience of the world,” replied:—
"In international affairs there is, in the ultimate, no moral conscience. . . . It may be sad, but it is true, that self-interest is still the first law of nations. Nasser understands this, even if some people here do not. So do Nehru, Kruschev and Mao Tse-tung. The nation that neglects it goes to the wall."
The News Chronicle stands on this issue with those who pride themselves on not being either narrow nationalists or believers in using force in the first place to settle disputes; they believe that an appeal to reason through United Nations will produce solutions good for all parties and harmful to none. Only with United Nation’s endorsement should force be used.

The Socialist does not belong to any of these groups, holding that capitalism cannot help engendering conflict and wars and that the only solution is not in the vain hope of running capitalism a different way but of ending capitalism and replacing it by a new and different system of society.

To the Socialist the world is not capable of being divided into the good and the bad statesman and the good and bad nations; they are all Capitalist and all are impelled by the nature of the social system to struggle for markets for their products, for sources of cheap raw materials, and for control of trade routes like Suez and strategic points like Cyprus. These are the things for which they fight, no matter what the fine phrases and slogans in which their aims and motives are garbed.

The crux of the Suez dispute is firstly the oil that exists in abundance in the countries of the Middle East, and secondly the Canal through which much of it, as well as other cargoes, is transported. Oil is now an indispensable fuel for the motors and tractors, aeroplanes and warships, merchant vessels and factories of the countries of the world. With cool production and hydro-electric power failing to keep up with rapidly growing demand for fuel and with atomic power only a development of the not very near future, all countries need oil and many of them, including Britain, have practically none within their own frontiers.

But though the Middle East is reputed to have the biggest oil reserves in the world and extraction is expanding fast, it has a long way to go to catch up with the older oil producing areas.

The world’s greatest oil production is still in U.S.A. and Venezuela, which, between them, produce well over half the world’s oil. The output of U.S.A. alone in 1955, 2,748 million barrels, is almost equal to that of South America, Europe and the Middle East, and Russia and her satellites, added together (see report of Shell Co. l955, from which the following figures on oil production are also taken). The total production of the Middle East now exceeds 1,000 million barrels, mostly in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Persia; Egypt has only the trifling output of 13 million. Russia and her satellites produce under 600 million barrels, less than a quarter of the output of U.S.A. Among the late comers, but growing fast, is Canada, with 131 million barrels last year. The great attraction of Middle Eastern oil is that it is much cheaper to extract than oil in the Americas, and the source or Europe’s supplies has been switched from West to East. “Before the war most of Europe's oil came from the Western hemisphere; even in 1947 nearly two-thirds of the imports came from the Caribbean or the United States. But in 1955 four-fifths of the imports came from the Middle East” (Times, 14 August). At the same time America’s internal demand for oil has grown so enormously that some oil is now taken from the Middle East to U.SA, in preference to using high cost American wells.

The oil industry in the Middle East is mostly controlled by American, British, Dutch and French companies, to whose shareholders large profits flow after paying royalties to the Arab Governments in whose territories they operate and maintain pipe lines.

The magnitude of profits made in the oil business is shown by results for one group, Royal Dutch-Shell, about an eighth of whose output comes from the Middle East. In 1955 the group made a net profit, after paying taxes, of £160,000,000, of which £33 million was paid out six dividends.

In the Middle East, then, is a great prize for the Power or Powers that can gain control. Each of the Arab countries looks hopefully to being able to squeeze out the oil companies. Egypt’s position is different With practically no oil of its own it has the, at present, irreplaceable Canal through which much of the oil must be shipped. Immediately British troops left the Suez base the way was open for Egyptian capitalism to strike its first blow, which, if it succeeds, will enlarge hopes of achieving the ambition phrased by Col. Nasser as “creating a great Arab Power, stretching from the Atlantic to the Persian Guff.” (Observer, 12 August, 1956); an ambition about which the other Arab States may have their own ideas.

Faced with this situation the Western countries, now dependent on the Canal, are being forced to consider the much more expensive voyage round South Africa (some new oil tankers are already too big for the Canal), and building more pipe-lines like the American-owned £80 million “Tapline” that stretches over 1,000 miles from Arabia to the Mediterranean—but these too are tempting objects for “nationalisation" by the Governments through whose territory they have to pass.

The Lebanon has already threatened to nationalise pipe-lines, and the Financial Times (15 August) expresses the opinion that though existing pipe-lines may be extended it is unlikely that any company will put vast sums into new pipe-lines in view of the risk of nationalisation.

Seemingly the Arab countries are being encouraged to attack the oil companies by the Russian Government, which may hope to get much needed oil in the Middle East or even some form of control of oil resources if Western companies are pushed out. It will be remembered that in 1946, with its armies in occupation, Russia forced Persia to agree to put North Persia oil under Russian control for 50 years; but when the troops withdrew Persia blandly declined to ratify the concession.

It has been a matter for comment that the American Government held back from the more belligerent Anglo-French threats of using force against Egypt. Apart from pre-occupation with winning the forthcoming presidential election and the fact that Suez is not a major American interest, the American Government and even the American companies with big holdings in Middle Eastern oil, are not greatly concerned with the Anglo-French fear that if Egypt nationalises the Canal this will encourage the Middle East Governments to nationalise the oil wells. The American Government has in the past encouraged Middle East oil production partly in order to conserve her home oil resources but the growing importance of Canadian oil may reduce this need. Also the Observer's Washington correspondent reports a divergent view among American oil companies themselves:—
“Another group opposed to any military action over the Suez Canal is the American oil industry. Several oil companies are reported to have expressed the view that they can protect their interests best for quite a long time by making monetary concessions to the Arab States if necessary. This, the companies think, is possible because the cost of extracting oil is much lower in the Middle East than it is in North America, or even Latin America." (Observer, 12th August, 1956.)
The South African and Canadian Governments were also lukewarm in their attitude to the issuer and why not? South Africa would welcome more shipping going round the Cape, and Canadian capitalism has its hands full building up its own oil industry.

At the time of writing the discussions between the Powers have not produced a settlement though the evident lack of war-fever among British workers and the disinclination of other Governments to back up Britain and France in forcible action against Egypt have had some effect in restraining the Eden Government and its supporters.

On the other hand Arab workers, misled by the belief that nationalisation of the Canal Co. (and eventual nationalisation of the oil industry) is in their interest, have been reported as giving vigorous backing to their Governments.

This is the real tragedy of the Suez dispute, that there is no unity among the workers of the different countries in opposing the war-talk of their Governments. In the main the trade unions in each country give such large measure of support to the claims of their own Capitalists and Governments that the basis does not exist on which they could act in unity with the workers of other countries when a clash of Capitalist interest is involved. Not realising the possibility and necessity of building a social system in which production solely for use will replace production for sale in competitive markets, because private property is the means of production and distribution will have given place to common property, the workers of the world do not realise that their common interest should unite them impartially against Eden, Nasser, Kruschev, Eisenhower, and all their kind. The trouble, as we said at the beginning, is that most people do not yet understand the workings of the social system, Capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Revolution in Chinese marriage (1956)

From the September 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

The establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, despite the usual misleading Communist phraseology, marked the completion of the Capitalist revolution there. The new system of society which is emerging from it has changed many things hitherto fundamental to the Chinese way of life, and not the least of these is marriage.

The majority of people, both in Europe and Asia, regard their existing form of marriage, together with the sexual morality that their society claims as sacrosanct, as something permanent, something that always has been and always will continue. But, in fact, marriage laws and sexual morality change in keeping with changing social systems.

Early Chinese Marriage
In ancient times in China the aristocracy were married with elaborate rites and ceremonies. The wife of an aristocrat would be associated in the rites of her husband’s ancestral temple; the temple of his "Clan.” Marriage was particularly important because property was involved and the heirs’ legal claim to the estate had to be established.

But the peasants were not included in the clan system, had no surname or pedigrees, and consequently could not participate in ancestor-worship. Moreover, they did not possess any land of their own. They were serfs, cultivating their master’s soil under his direction. They dwelt in groups in villages during the harsh winter, and in huts built among the fields during the summer when agriculture was possible. Every spring, the peasants celebrated a festival in which the youths and girls of neighbouring villages met in free association, only translated into formal marriage in the autumn if the girls were with child

The Traditional Chinese Marriage
Feudalism was abolished in China in 300.B.C. and replaced by a unified central government ruling through a civil service. Wealth increased rapidly, and extended to fresh groups of the population. This spread of private property necessitated a change in morality as well as in the marriage customs of the population for peasants wished to leave their farms to their own sons, and marriage, therefore, became a social necessity for them. But the heavy tasks of draining farmland in the marshy valleys and the irrigation works that were needed afterwards, required the labour of large family groups. 

A system of ethics was evolved which was expressed by the teachings of the sage Confucius, laying down a code of behaviour to cover all relationships. The submission of the subject to the ruler, and, within the family, the submission of the individual to the head of the household. Moreover there were rules formulated to cover relationships such as between younger brother and elder brother, husband and wife, wife and mother-in-law. Thus Confucianism not only made the task of ruling over vast China easier, but enabled the individuals in these otherwise unwieldy family groups to live together in more or less harmony and co-operation. Some of those whose mothers-in-law lived with them as one of the family may perhaps have received an inkling of the desirability of such regulating of family life and behaviour.

This somewhat puritanical code of Confucianist morals was rigidly adhered to in conservative China, where changes were extremely gradual because the Chinese made their living by engaging in small scale intensive agriculture, which has developed very slowly right down through the ages until a few years ago. It also forms the philosophic basis for the literary classics, a thorough knowledge of which was necessary to pass the civil service examinations.

In China until recent times it was the custom for the parents of the bride and bridegroom to be brought into contact by a marriage broker, the parents being the final arbiters on the suitability of the proposed union. The couple had no say in the choice and moreover did not meet before the ceremony. The Chinese compared this form of betrothal with a cold pot that is put on the fire and gradually heats up; whereas marriage in the West usually taking place after courtship was likened to a pot boiling at the time of the ceremony, but thereafter beginning to cool off.

Marriage in “Communist” China
The Marriage Law of the Peoples Republic of China, which came into force on 1st May, 1950, indicates the need for a new set of family rules to govern behaviour in this new Capitalist system of society. It reveals too an interesting side-light on some of the social changes taking place there; for it is only to be expected that China, the latest recruit to the State Capitalist system, should adopt the most up-to-date set of Capitalist marriage laws.

Article 1 of the new law formally abolishes the previous marriage system, and in its place institutes the “New Democratic” Marriage Law which, it states, is based on free choice of partners, on monogamy, on equal rights for both sexes, and of the lawful interest of women and children.
“Husband and wife are companions living together and shall enjoy equal status in the home. Both shall have the right to free choice of occupation and free participation in work or social activities."
Other Articles deal with prohibition of bigamy and concubinage. The local government is delegated to issue the marriage certificates.

The change in the status of women has the advantage for the ruling-class that the women are “free" to become wage-workers.

Rights and duties are further detailed, as well as the relations between parents and children; and divorce is to be granted only when the efforts of the local government officials have failed to bring about a reconciliation. After appropriate measures have been taken for the care of children and property, divorce certificates are to be issued without delay. Both parents still have the duty to support their children. In case of divorce, the wife shall retain such property as belonged to her before her marriage.

As a further indication of the trend of society in modern China, 12 put of the 27 articles that go to make up this law deal wholly or partly with money or property matters.

For the smooth running of capitalism, workers must conform to the rules of behaviour which have been found suitable for the social system; and because the needs of capitalism are similar irrespective of which part of the globe is involved, the marriage laws, which codify a part of this behaviour pattern are also similar, differing only in detail in the various national sections of the Capitalist world.

It is understandable that the new Chinese marriage law abolishes the previous marriage system; it is in the interest of the Capitalists to try to increase the surplus value obtained from the labour of the workers, who are induced to speed up their work by the prospects of a higher standard of living. This elusive prize is dangled before them, like the carrot before the donkey’s nose. Moreover, in order to get the Chinese worker to work harder, the old-fashioned household, consisting of several related families sharing the income of their wage-earners, has had to be broken up into smaller units; in this way the wage-earner and his immediate family receive all the benefit from his wages.

The breaking-up of this now out-moded household into the more modern form of family unit has the further advantage, from the Capitalist point of view, that the parents, because the family is now dependent on their sole earnings, are more amenable to Capitalist demands. Hence, the new marriage laws of China, by substituting for child betrothals, the “free choice” of husband and wife and by fixing the responsible minimum marrying ages for women and men, transfer the responsibility for the marriage; financially and otherwise, from the large family group to a smaller family unit; the unit which is now considered normal in the Capitalist world.

This change in the status of women has evoked great interest in China, and Chinese newspapers and magazines frequently carry photos showing the various jobs women have undertaken. One day the Peking newspapers carried on their front pages photographs of women proudly driving the local trams, other pictures showed women repairing these trams, and others, gear-cutting in the machine building shops. A picture of a group of smiling nurses had a caption to the effect that 85,000 medical assistants were to be trained in the next five years. On the railways some of the engine crews are women and there is a train on the Peking-Tientsin run entirely staffed by women whose photographs show them as being understandably pleased with their accomplishments. There are many pictures published of proud "Labour Heroines ’’—those pacesetters of China’s industrialisation drive.

Work teams composed of functionaries of the People's Court and members of the Democratic Womens’ Federation and the Youth League, visit the villages to see that the Marriage Law is properly enforced. They help to settle marital disputes on the spot and illustrate the merits of the law through plays, skits and lantern slide exhibitions.

It is reported that the special panel meetings for husbands and mothers-in-law are proving very effective.

But as a lotus petal separated from the flower is carried along in the grip of the wind, so have the women of China been broken away from the relatively secure group-household to start on a separate course of life. This has at least begun with great hopes of happiness. The publication of the Marriage Law was accompanied by articles written by leading Chinese personalities—the-Vice-President of the Supreme People’s Court and the Vice-Chairman of the All-China Democratic Women’s Federation—anticipating domestic bliss as a consequence of the operation of this law. In other parts of the globe where somewhat similar laws obtain, the mounting figures of divorces, separations, and juvenile delinquency resulting from broken homes, give cause for doubts about such optimism.

And in China, some of the smiles must surely have changed to tears by now, for another photograph published later shows a parting between a young mother and her toddler at the entrance to a factory nursery. The caption reads—“Come, dear! Let your mother go to work."

Other pictures show women members of the armed forces in Korea of whom it is stated that they are merely in the medical corps but that others are taking part in the fighting as combat troops. This information has been borne out by reports in Western newspapers of women figuring in the fighting in Korea. Thus is the road to woman's “emancipation" via blood, toil, tears and sweat."

And so the world changes. But the more things change the more they often really stay the same; for in a class-dominated society so many reforms, on the eve of fulfilment, turn to dust and ashes. By the promulgation and enforcement of the Marriage Law of the Peoples' Republic of China are the women of China free—free to become wage-slaves.
Frank Offord

The Critics Criticised – Professor Popper Looks at History pt.4 (1956)

Book Review from the September 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from the August issue)

Mr. Popper is what may be styled a militant Christian. His social doctrine is the familiar secularised interpretation of the New Testament. We must cast out false idols—lust for power; seek humility, do things for their own sake, be guided by our conscience, etc., and all this in a world where profit is the ruling motive, power politics a normal social mechanism, and where the vast majority are excluded from control and genuine participation in the wealth producing agencies. The social ethics of Mr. Popper are the age long belief of all social reformists: the belief that humanity will triumph over lust for profit, and power, while leaving the basis of the present system intact. Mr. Popper, like so many other social reformers, seems to regret the fact that under capitalism, Capitalists continue to behave like Capitalists and not as ardent humanitarians and social philanthropists.

Again selfishness or unselfishness are not attributes intrinsically good or bad as the abstract morality of Christ, Kant, and perhaps Mr. Popper, maintains. They can only be given real content in the social environment in which they arise and the purpose and ends which give effect to these attributes. Thus a section of the community, fighting to resist encroachments on its standards of living, may impose hardships on others, to call upon them to cease their struggles would be to ask them to sacrifice their own human interests. Mr. Popper talks about morality but fails to see that the watershed of any genuinely human morality must be the concrete needs of men. The Marxists maintain that only the abolition of social privilege based on ownership can best serve the concrete needs of the vast majority and hence constitute the truly human morality.

Mr. Popper, while he soft peddles on the present system, finds it easy to take the organ stops out when dealing with the past. For him power politics loom most large in the story of men. It is the story of the powerful and wicked against the weak and virtuous. How it came about we are never really informed or why it took the social forms it did. As such it does not explain the past, it merely explains it away.

While Marx never ceased to roundly condemn the cruelties and stupidities of the past and present, he never attributed social evils to be basically the outcome of wickedness on one hand or the ineptitude of virtue on the other. Instead of passing empty categorical judgment on those who have gone before, Marx insisted that men’s actions should be studied in the light of the social situation which initiated and gave meaning to them. Marx held that all systems based on a class structures tended to perpetuate a set of beliefs, theories, and social rationalisations in keeping with the needs of the ruling section, and because the privileged minority are by virtue of their social position, connected with the agencies which disseminate social ideologies they are not only able to exert a major emphasis on those ideas favourable to their interests but to set the tone of the extant cultural pattern which produces the social pressures which make for uniformity of outlook among all members of a given society. What is known as the general outlook will prevail until it is challenged effectively by counter beliefs set up in the interests of a new social group. It is from the warp and the woof of the generally accepted ideas that social ideals and doctrines are formed. That is why although the pages of history tell of man’s inhumanity to man and reek with blood of the innocent, there has never been a lack of social doctrines to justify men’s deeds.

Marx calls this incongruence between the ideals which men set up and the real nature of the social relations on whose behalf these ideals function—” false consciousness.” This is not due to some grave moral defect in human nature, or to a lack of logical consistency in their theories and beliefs but to a set of social beliefs which, under the guise of acting on behalf of what is known as "the general interests,” are projections of certain group wills and interests and thus act as polarising and refractory agents on the social vision of men. It is because of this process of social deception that men become victims of their own ideologies. And abstractions like justice, freedom, the rights of man, etc., not only become battle cries but take on the character of real things. While men then have been guilty of all manner of cruelties in the name of ideologies they have to a great extent been innocent of the real sources from which they sprang. No amount of cruelty or slaughter, Marx thought, would correct this deception, nor, we might add, moralising platitudes. Only when men grasp the real content of the relations between themselves and nature can a socialised humanity emerge. The verdict of Marx on history reveals a more profound and more tolerant attitude than the crude denunciations of Mr. Popper.

Marx was also opposed to judging human beings by some absolute scale of ethical values. He believed that men must be appraised by the standards of their time. No doubt members of the Capitalist class would be horrified at the idea of keeping slaves. Yet are we to believe that the slave owners of the 18th and 19th centuries were wicked men? They certainly did not think so. Judged in accordance with their own lights they were not exempt from humane feeling and consideration. They did not, however, oppose slavery or demand its abolition, no more than the employing class demand the abolition of capitalism based on wage slavery. Socialists demand the abolition of capitalism not because Capitalists as such are inhuman or lack consideration, but because the form and content of their humanity and ethical values are circumscribed by the type of social organisation of which they are the social representatives. Our claim is that ethical values do not function independently of the social context in which they are expressed and which Mr. Popper should have sought to prove but he never did. Only when class division has ceased to count in human affairs will the meanness, hatred, cruelty and antagonism which are so much features of contemporary culture disappear and the values and motives of Capitalist society be replaced by more humane values and more humane motives.

Mr. Popper follows the traditions of the Fabians, Bertrand Russell, G. D. H. Cole, and others, in seeing the value of Marxism as a moral appeal. Marx, however, sharply disassociated himself from the utopians. As Marx pointed out “the utopians have a bent to interpret surplus value in moral terms and then appeal to society for correction of its glaring injustices.” For Marx, morality had to rest upon a theory of objective conditions to ensure its success.

Some of Mr. Popper’s inadequate ideas of Marxism can be seen from his assertion that Marx held that the rate of profit must fall (p. 184), when Marx held no such view. Another idea he puts forward, that Marx also held that the fall in the rate of profit was an automatic process for the increasing misery of the workers (p.p. 183-185). What Marx said was that the tendency of the rate of profit to fall was an incentive for Capitalists to attempt to increase productivity. He never said that all increases in productivity go to the Capitalist in the shape of profits. Some go to workers in higher wages but he maintained never proportionately to the productive power of labour. Again we are told that Marx held that wages oscillate round starvation level (p. 173). Marx again did not say it but emphatically denied it. How Marx vide Mr. Popper came to believe that workers’ conditions would continue to worsen from starvation levels, he Mr. Popper does not explain. Finally he repeats the hoary myth that Marx held that capitalism would crash (p. 179).

If we seem -to have spent much time on Mr. Popper it is not in deference to his criticism on Marxism, but because he has in his book summarised most of the criticism of Marx in the last 50 years. The views on Marxism and history held by Mr. Popper can themselves be summarised as mostly Poppercock.
Ted Wilmott